For decades Polish cinema has conscripted the role of gay characters according to a heterosexual agenda, placing them at the centre of comedic material. Now Tomasz Wasilewski’s new melodrama travels into new terrain.
With his second film, Tomasz Wasilewski proves himself one of the most interesting voices amongst young Polish directors. His intriguing use of colour, skill in establishing rhythm and use of expressive diction all make for a strong and convincing film. Had he rejected the temptation to fulfil a typical journalistic style, focusing on intimate portraits of the protagonists, the gay-positive drama would have been truly excellent. Floating Skyscrapers leaves its audience a little unsatisfied not for lack of technical and artistic achievement, but due to the fact that it promises more than it is able to give - even though it gives a lot.
Packed with psychological issues dealing with doubt, illusion and complexes, Wasilewski’s film draws sensitive portraits and then carefully shades them with these concerns. He knows that in cinema sometimes “less is more,” and his skillful hand creates powerful understatements allowing the characters to hide behind two guards: social roles and acting roles.
The story of Kuba, a young swimmer (Mateusz Banasiuk) who lives with his mother (Katarzyna Herman) and his girlfriend (Marta Nieradkiewicz), is a story about difficult interpersonal relationships. Forming a triangle pulsating with emotion and injury, the film investigates both the intimate relationship between mother and son and the passionate and possessive love between the two young people. Both relationsips undergo a shaking of their very foundations. When Michał (Bartosz Gelner) meets Kuba at a party and they share a “chemistry of love connections,” their intimate attraction threatens to demolish all of the existing relationships in Kuba’s life.
Coming Out of the Closet
Floating Skyscrapers blazes a new trail in Polish cinema by refusing to script the gay role as a strange one seemingly hoisted from an immature burlesque production. Homosexual characters, with their infinite arsenal of pretentious gestures and ability to bend into amusing feminine poses, lacked personality and subjective character in much of previous Polish cinema. In recent years only Izabella Cywińska with her Kochankowie z Marony (The Lovers of Marona) and Małgorzata Szumowska with her W imię (In the Name Of), were able to give the homosexual a legitimate form.
Wasilewski pulls his homosexual characters to the foreground while refraining from treating them like underdogs together against the world, constantly on guard. Instead he portrays them as real people woven into each other’s lives through passion and pain, unfulfilled desires and dreams. The film captures the mutual fascination of two men overwhelmed by the intensity borne between them. In Polish cinema, few directors have been brave enough to show this side to human sexuality.
Mixing different tones throughout the film, Wasilewski discusses the exclusion of the Other from social consciousness. A family dinner sets the stage for Michał’s coming out. In order to drown out his confession of “guilt” the toher memebers of the family earnestly dedicate themselves to a conversation about a blushing baby. Another scene also illustrates the potential for intersecting comedy and drama when a customary sociological diagnosis arrives dressed in a humorous form.
As the director of W sypialni (In the Bedroom), Wasilewski boldly attempted to deal with the language of cinema in a new way: his debut work featured almost no dialogue. It told a story about a woman at a crossroads through the use of simple sequential frames. With Floating Skyscrapers Wasilewski again truns away from literalism to find expression through images and gestures rather than in words. Floating Skyscrapers hits just the right note, cultivating a dense narrative whole without becoming a reflection of his mannerisms. There is no empty aesthetic.
With similar metaphorical images to his previous production, Wasilewski employs one of his favourite visual motifs, the viaduct. Creating a setting where his characters meet up, miss each other or stand no chance of an encounter, it serves as a simple and accurate metaphor.
Katarzyna Herman and Mateusz Banasiuk in Floating Skyscrapers directed by Tomasz Wasilewski, photo: Anna Tomczyńska
“I don’t like it when actors only play their roles. They need to become their characters, not just play them,” said the director in an interview with Culture.pl. He cast mostly young actors lacking experience in Floating Skyscrapers and they repaid the opportunity with a vengeance. Marta Nieradkiewicz, well-known for her television series parts, is particulary excellent. Her performance earned her the award for Best Supporting Actress at the Gdynia Film Festival as a woman who prefers to immerse herself in lies rather than confront her painful reality. Nieradkiewicz is not the only jem Wasilewski has uncovered in this film. Mateusz Banasiuk and Bartosz Gelner build their characters with precision and courage, while Katarzyna Herman toes the equilibirum between being on the verge of a complete breakdown and resilient composure to create a poignant performance.
The film's final scenes integrate the interpersonal drama into the wider story about a chauvinistic society where hatred and tolerance need to be addressed. While it is well made and relevent, Floating Skyscrapers might have accomplished more if Wasilewski had managed to avoid falling into a journalistic tone.
Author: Bartosz Staszczyszyn 20/11/2013, translation: SMG 21/22/2013